Southwest Boundary Committee members critique a proposed map for new elementary school boundaries in the southwest area of Baltimore County on Oct. 14. Matt Cropper, of Copper GIS, which is helping to faciliate the redrawing process, addresses the group.
Southwest Boundary Committee members critique a proposed map for new elementary school boundaries in the southwest area of Baltimore County on Oct. 14. Matt Cropper, of Copper GIS, which is helping to faciliate the redrawing process, addresses the group. (Staff photo by Heather Norris)

In the third meeting of the Southwest Boundary Committee, held at Catonsville High School on Wednesday night, the group discussed more options for future changes to the region's elementary school boundaries as they were presented with five new maps to consider.

The group, made up of parents, school faculty and community members, has been tasked with making recommendations on redistricting students after three new elementary schools and one addition to an elementary school are constructed.

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The five new options addressed concerns the group had at the second meeting on Sept. 30, and in particular, boundary changes that would require students to cross major roadways like Baltimore National Pike to get to and from school. The committee also raised issues at its last meeting about students with special needs being transferred out of their current district.

Drawing the lines for new school boundaries in Catonsville and Arbutus

The Arbutus and Catonsville areas are in for some significant changes over the next two years. Three new elementary schools will be built in the area, replacing aging and too-small facilities at Catonsville, Westowne and Relay Elementary schools, as well as a 200-seat addition at Westchester Elementary.

Although the maps the group has been working with are still only drafts, said Matt Cropper, of Cropper GIS, the company working with Baltimore County Public Schools to moderate the rezoning process, they represent the most recent step in the redrawing of the boundaries for 11 of the southwest area's 13 elementary schools.

The rezoning is part of Baltimore County Public Schools' effort to address overcrowding at many southwest area elementary schools, many of which are severely overcrowded.

Over the course of the next two years, Westowne, Relay and Catonsville elementary schools will get new buildings and Westchester Elementary School will receive a 200-seat addition. To utilize the extra seats the construction will provide, the committee of approximately 50 people will make recommendations on redrawing the lines of the elementary school districts to more evenly spread out enrollment.

The rezoning process has the potential to affect as many as 6,000 students currently enrolled in the area's elementary schools.

Shaunta Chapple, a committee member and mother to a Relay Elementary fourth-grader, said after the Oct. 14 meeting that it felt like the group was beginning to make some headway.

"I think we're getting close," she said, noting that the five maps provided to committee members for evaluation at the meeting by Cropper GIS seemed more acceptable to the group than the three maps the group was shown as a starting point at the second meeting.

But, Chapple said after the meeting, the process is far from over.

"I just think that everyone's being kind of polite," she said, adding that some committee members might have more concerns or different concerns than they are voicing at this point. She pointed to the resistance some people have expressed regarding having certain neighborhoods switch schools.

While some are concerned about rezoning kids out of one district into another, there is the potential to impact all of the children's lives for the better, Chapple told the committee.

Committee takes first step for rezoning Catonsville and Arbutus area schools

Parents, school staff begin process to redraw school maps

"Maybe it would be a good thing if [the kids] go to school with kids who don't look like them," she said, "because that's the way the world is."

In addition to the committee members, some 20 non-committee members attended the meeting to observe the process, a large increase over the Sept. 30 meeting, in which only a few observers attended.

Sharon Loving, parent of former Woodbridge Elementary students, was one of those observers.

Even though her youngest is now in high school, Loving said she wanted to go to the meeting out of a feeling of responsibility to look out for the school that had played such a big role in her children's lives as they were growing up.

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Instead of reviewing another new set of maps, for the next committee meeting, scheduled for Oct. 28, the group will be provided with adjusted versions of the five maps they evaluated on Wednesday night, Cropper said. From there, he said, the hope is that the group can begin to eliminate some options and winnow down the choices to focus on.

The group must choose a boundary proposal to submit to the school board by Feb. 2, 2016. Prior to that date, there are committee meetings scheduled Nov. 11, Nov. 18, and Dec. 9. While all meetings are open to public observation, the Nov. 18 meeting will be the only one allowing for public comment.

"Nothing is written in stone," Cropper told the committee members, reiterating a message he has delivered at the start of every boundary committee meeting. "Everything is subject to change."

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